It was a bit wet and overcast when we woke up in Quevedo on the morning of Thanksgiving. In all honesty, I don’t think a single one of us remembered that it was even a holiday back home in the states. We were embarking on our final day of riding, and we had over 150 miles ahead of us.
We packed our gear and set out into the drizzle and the morning traffic of the city of Quevedo. We worked our way through the cabs and the buses until we reached the main route heading west and back towards the mountains. We would be climbing most of the day today until we were back in Quito. More than two miles of altitude change was ahead of us. The rain clouds began to burn off early in the day and it began to get warm again. We stopped for gas on the out skirts of town and filled all the bikes up while we had the chance.
There was construction on our way out of town and the roads were congested and in poor repair. There is very little construction signage in Ecuador compared to what we are used to. Most of the time no signs at all, so coming across road work can become confusing if you do not know what kind of work is going on. We found that the most common approach was to simply go for it. Try not to hit anything, or anyone, or get in the way. Easier said than done at times. There was one instance when we were leaving Quevedo where I almost went down because all of the sudden I felt as if I had hit ice. I looked down and the road was wet. Then it became dry but I slipped again. Rolling to a stop I looked over to Daryl and yelled, “Is that oil all over the road?” He smiled and nodded his head yes. You never know what to expect on the city streets or in the mountain roads of Ecuador.
We soon came to a small dirt road over a bridge and off to the left of the road. This would be the last of the pavement we would see for a while. The road had very big, jagged rocks on it. Much larger than what you would consider gravel. It almost seemed like rocks left over from some blasting of some sort. Baseball sized coarse gravel. I remember the rocks so well because I was thinking to my self, “god, it would be easy to get a flat on this sh*t.”
Sure enough, not one hour into the beginning of our day, I got a pinch flat on my front tire. Tire change number five of our trip. This was the first time any of us had a front tire go flat on us, so at least it was something new (talk about trying to find the bright side…) It was right out front of this little shack. Some chickens came out and were pecking around me while I knelt on the ground and wrestled with my 21″ front rim. Then a little puppy came by to investigate. He was so young and so tiny it was kind of amazing he was wandering out there by himself. After a little while an old man came out of the shack. And when I say old man, I mean this guy was like 150 years old. He might have been the oldest dude I’ve ever seen. He had two homemade looking crutches to support him while he slowly… very slowly shuffled his feet. He too was clearly out here alone, and suddenly the little puppy seemed like he probably had it pretty under control.
I got the front wheel on my bike and tire inflated and we continued on down the rocky roadway. We passed a few cattle farms which i always enjoy. I liked the way the cows didn’t give a crap about us on the bikes. They just barely get out of the way, looking at you like “whats the rush a**hole?” Sometimes the whole road was filled with cows and only a few young kids with sticks following them to keep everyone on track. We passed a lot of cocoa plantations again, and even saw people outside processing big sacks of the cocoa pods on tables. They also grow bananas, yuca, coffee, and tobacco in this area. We followed along this remote road next to a beautiful river until we came to the foot of the mountains. The Sun was shining and it was a very comfortable temperature as we turned to begin our ascent up the mountain side.
This was an amazing and intense bit of the day for the next 40 miles or more. Tight switchbacks up the mountain, like a snake coiled up the side of it. At one point we actually gained 6,000 vertical feet in only 7 miles. That’s a pretty steep ride. The mountains and roads were breathtaking and nerve racking at the same time and I really enjoyed this climb. It was very dry by this point however, and the dust clouds were in full effect. We took turns leading while the others would quite literally ate dust.
It didn’t take us very long until we were once again looking out off of cliff sides and into the clouds. We were riding hard and making decent time at this point, but the thought of possible flat tires and a late arrival back Quito were far from the back of our minds. Any naivety about the forgiveness of these mountain roads had long been replaced with careful eyes scanning every inch in front of us for hazards. Its a very real part of riding out on these roads, but I must admit once it becomes worrisome, it certainly detracts from the majesty of it all.
After this initial steep ascent back to 10,000+ feet in the mountains, we came to cool little village called Isinlivi. I got a chance to ride around the center of the town a little bit and check things out… because Daryl’s back tire was flat again and the guys were stopped right at the edge of the village. We had pretty much become pro tire changers at this point, so they didn’t need my help anyway. Apparently this little village, high in the mountains, is a very popular destination for backpackers and hikers. There were youth hostels and small inns around the center of town. I met a very nice old woman who sold me some bottles of Gatorade. The village is also know for its craftsmen that make beautiful wood carvings and furniture. There was a cool looking old church and from what i understand, the center of town was a very old Indian look out, or as it translated, a “fortress.”
So, we had changed tire number six and we were back on our way with no more confidence than we had before. The rear tire of the Husky that had picked up the nail was puncturing tubes from debris and crap getting in the tiny hole. We attempted to use some gorilla tape on the inside of the tire before putting it back on this time to see if that would help. Either way, three bikes, six inflated tires… we were rolling for the time being.
We rode some very cool cobble stone roads for a while at this point. Just how old they are, I am not exactly sure. However, some of the villages in this area were settled by the Spanish as far back as the early 1500’s and long before that indigenous people lived in the area. I have to imagine that some of the cobble stone streets were at very least a couple hundred years old. We had to add some layers, because with the altitude came a noticeable chill to the air. The afternoon was upon us and our day was still far from over.
Quito, our final destination, is the capital city of Ecuador. As I have mentioned in previous posts here on Long May You Ride, its an expansive, bustling, modern city of over 2.6 million people. With this many people traveling the roads they have developed some interesting ways of managing the traffic and pollution this can cause. There are designated days of the week when certain vehicles can not be on the highway during the busiest hours of that day. The way this is determined is by a specific digit on the license plate of the vehicle. I don’t know exactly what digits are for which days, but i do know the bike I was on was technically illegal to be riding on the highway into Quito after 4pm. A window that at this point it was already clear I was going to miss. So that issue was weighing on my mind a bit, right there with the possibility of more flat tires or other problems.
We rode over a crest and into a spectacular valley with incredibly expansive views. It was a farming valley and there was a beautiful patch work of farm plots that rolled across to the mountains the rose up around it on all sides. What was most impressive of all was that this was not really what you conciser a normal “valley” per se. It was actually more of a saddle between many mountains. It was in fact over 11,000 feet above sea level here!
I have always had a sort of dream to have a farm one day. To live off the land and simplify my life. To trade the traffic jams for tractors and the morning meetings for morning feedings. This particular area made me feel that longing in a very real way. I guess the right word is jealousy. I was jealous of this simple secluded farm life high in these beautiful mountains. Where food, family and happiness are the only concerns of your day, and some of the most amazing beauty nature has to offer is right at your door step. I felt a feeling of frustration know where i would eventually be heading back to. I’m sure, like anything else, it comes with its hardships there. The proverbial “the grass is always greener..” conundrum. However at that particular time, gazing out over this valley, it would have been very hard to convince me this was not one of the greatest places to wake up every day.
At this point we had faced the fact that we were going to be late and that it was just something out of our control at this point. No use worrying about what you can not change. I started to realize that as the evening got closer, so did the big city and eventually, our return home. I know it sounds cheesy, but when you experience the amount of awe, wonder, and emotion that I had in such a short period of time, its impossible not to become sentimental when the end begins to draw near. As we cruised down the last dirt road of the trip before we would hit pavement for the remainder of the journey, my sentimental and introspective thoughts were interrupted by Daryl pointing at his back tire. No, I’m not kidding. Another flat tire. To add insult to injury, there were also no more 18″ tubes. Once again we were in the familiar predicament of having no tubes, and this time the patch was useless due to the gouge that was in the tube. We decided that with the sun going down and our day way behind schedule the best thing to do would be to split up. Steve and I would keep riding to try and find some tubes and Daryl would wait with his bike for us to get back.
So we took off, leaving our companion sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. We came to a paved road pretty quickly and followed it a couple miles until we came to a small town. I stopped at a hardware store where there was a very nice man who wanted to help but simply did not have the right size. I asked how many kilometers to the next store (or at least that’s what I was trying to say.) He nodded his head excitedly, pointed down the road and said, “Cinco, mas o menos.” I thanked him and we continued down the road. I felt bad Daryl was sitting out there on that dirt road for so long, but we were simply out of options.
I found a service station, with a parts store next door. I asked a guy changing truck tire if he had tubes and he pointed to the store. I went into the store and it was just stuff everywhere. Boxes in piles every where, loose parts on the ground, it looked like a tornado ripped through it. I called out and a small boy, no more than 7 or 8 at the most, came out from the back. I asked for the tube and he said “No” and smiled. I felt like he was messing with me, but there was no one else there. I asked “por favor? Tengo dinero!” Again he smiled and said “No.” I left and went back outside feeling rather defeated. Desperate times called for desperate measures. I used the translator on my phone to type the phrase “All I need is a tube for my friends motorcycle and no one will sell me one.” Yeah, that’s right, shamelessly playing that sympathy card. I walked over to a small SUV in the parking lot and held up the phone to the driver. He immediately got out and went over to the store where the cheeky little kid was. He walked out with out a tube too! I felt a little better about the kid, and also felt good about the fact that this guy wasn’t giving up. After asking around and knocking on a few doors a kid sold me exactly what I needed for an astronomically high price and i gladly paid him and sincerely thanked all parties involved.
We got back to Daryl as quick as we could with the correct tube and yet another story to tell. But Daryl wasn’t there. Just a one wheeled motorcycle on the side of a dirt road. Just as i began to get concerned, I saw him walking towards us from behind a small house a few hundred yards up the road. Apparently he had made friends with the neighbor who had tried his best to help but also had no luck. Well, long story short, we fixed it and got moving again as fast as we could. It was now dark and starting to rain lightly, perfect weather for some high speed erratic highway driving in the city.
It was a cold, wet, dark ride back to the city. Once we passed through the toll booths and were within the city limits it was actually after 7 or 8 pm. I don’t remember exactly, but I do know that it meant my bike was no longer illegal to be riding on the road that day. So I had that going for me, which was nice. About 20 or 30 minutes away from downtown Quito, my rear tire was noticeably low on air. I couldn’t believe it, and frankly I wasn’t having it. At this point there was no way I was going to change another damn tire. Before this trip I had ridden all over the place at home for days on end, year after year and I had never once had a flat tire. Even riding dirt bikes in the woods doing things that should surely pop a tube, zero flats that I had to change on the trail. If I changed this tire it would be the eighth tire change for our group in four days. Nope. I pulled over pumped it up and kept going. Ten minutes later I did that again, and so on, until we finally reach our destination.
We returned our bikes, repacked our bags, and grabbed a ride to a near by hotel. In fact, it was the same hotel we had stayed before the trip. We took some much needed showers and then drank beer late into the evening. Laughing and telling stories, almost in disbelief of the awesome experience we had just had. Not only did we see parts of the world that most will only dream of, we overcame so many obstacles, met so many amazing people, and we all walked away changed people. That was a trip that I can truly say was a trip of a lifetime. A trip that fanned the flames of adventure in me. Its important to remember how big this world is and how many amazing places to see and things to do there are. The scope is so much larger than we can ever imagine until we open that door and go see whats outside. Its bigger than you, your job, and your favorite restaurant. The beauty is outside of the box. Outside of the comfort zone. I know I speak for all three of us when I say that I can not wait to see what the next adventure has in store. Thanks for following along, I hope our journey can inspire you to try something new. Take a chance and enjoy it, and Long May You Ride!